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Chuck Pagano’s future likely to incorporate many factors

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Contrary to popular belief, Chuck Pagano’s fate isn’t likely to be determined strictly by wins and losses

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not we’re already at the point where we are devising situations as to whether Chuck Pagano will be retained in 2018 or not. We’ve been doing this for awhile so I’m sure most of you don’t need your arm twisted.

Most of us knew that the potential was there for him being let go following last season, but Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay instead pointed towards letting Ryan Grigson go – alone.

Many predicted that Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams coordinator Dave Toub would be following closely behind Chris Ballard after he was hired to fill the GM position, but that failed to come to fruition. Still, many have different, but similar, views of what the future of the Colts head coach position holds with Ballard at the helm.

Some think Pagano is as good as gone next season. Others feel that if Pagano can get the Colts into the playoffs he may be safe, while another sect of folks feel he’d have to take the team deep into the postseason. It’s hard to tell at the moment how it’ll play out, but I think there’s a very real chance that Ballard has specific guidelines he expects the team, and coaching staff, to live up to in order to remain into the 2018 season.

As we take a look at what may, or may not, decide the fate of Pagano’s future there’s a lot we need to consider being up for evaluation.

Ballard has reworked this roster into a more youthful group, playing on intelligent contracts for players that are absolutely in the building to take this roster into the future. The majority of these guys aren’t here simply for trial and error for the 2017 season, but rather to inject a new approach on to how things get done.

Colts fans are excited because we see the potential in the recent acquisitions as well. If we see it, the physical as well as the mental improvements at this very early moment in the team’s current rebuild, then you can bet that Ballard believes this group is a great foundation of building the roster in his image.

Front office additions such as Brian Decker, Ed Dobbs and Rex Hogan were brought in as Ballard’s guys. People who share his vision, with similar eyes for the pieces of this puzzle that will eventually be an entire roster of the current regime’s components. And where Pagano fits into this foresight depends on several things, in my opinion, that may not be so crystal clear at the moment.

Does a playoff berth save Pagano’s job? What if Ballard sees the potential to have been even greater than a simple opportunity in the Wild Card round?

Just the same, is Pagano gone if he doesn’t get the Colts into at least a 17th game? Maybe when it’s all said and done that Ballard feels the team was coached up more than adequately and certain players let the organization down. Now, envision another .500 season, or a final record of 7-9 even. What happens then? Again, maybe Ballard doesn’t see Pagano as the issue.

The point is: absent the team starting the season 0-3, or 0-4, Pagano could still be seen in a quality light by Ballard’s standards. Ultimately, wins and losses determine any coach’s future in the NFL, but this is a very peculiar time for the organization and Irsay has proven many times before that he isn’t a huge fan of turnover.

Just as there are differing opinions of what Pagano’s future holds, just as many exist about his performance up to this point in his tenure. Has this roster been truly built so terribly by Grigson that Pagano simply couldn’t get this team to better than 16-16 over the past two seasons?

Are we acknowledging this as a fact, but blindly looking past the fact that Pagano – a secondary specialist – has had a say in back-end defenders who have been disappointing to say the least, like D’Joun Smith and T.J. Green? What about his unforgivable coaching blunders such as the fake punt that was never really a fake punt against the Patriots in 2015, that all but took the Colts out of the game when they were within a touchdown of taking the lead?

Maybe even how unprepared the team has looked pretty regularly throughout Pagano’s days leading the team – I mean, there’s a lot to think about, and you’d be foolish to assume that any one path of circumstances would lead to a cutting of the cord. But, there are very real expectations for Pagano and as we’ve seen thus far in his first offseason, Ballard isn’t playing games.

Quite honestly, I think it’s just as possible that Pagano keeps his job if there are a rash of injuries, or the team chemistry isn’t fixable at a certain point and Ballard accepts responsibility for it whether he deserves it or not. A 7-9 record with a large handful of extenuating circumstances, or that maybe the team just isn’t as talented as he’d hoped, could very well keep Pagano around into the 2018 season.

Conversely, maybe the team gets to 10 wins, they retake the AFC South but fail to win a playoff game and Ballard believes the team had greater promise because of other teams’ failures and internal issues, Pagano could just as easily be an afterthought in 2018 due to this occurrence.

Unlike most articles, this one isn’t designed to give you the answers to these questions. Mainly because, like you, I don’t have enough of a sample size to make an educated assumption as to what Ballard’s flash point would be. We haven’t seen their reactions, or interactions at training camp yet or any successes or failures to attempt to interpret anything quite yet. Simply put, we know nothing about how that will turn out right now.

However, we do know something. Ballard has given off the appearance, to this point, that he lives by his word. Additionally, it seems almost understood that Pagano is getting a very real opportunity to earn his job – that there are no predispositions about the 2018 season. But also, that it looks as though Ballard has very real expectations that Pagano must absolutely meet or he’ll be as good as gone.

As Colts fans possess hopes that the team will dig itself out of this hole they find themselves in, anticipating a return to perennial greatness or, at a minimum, a valiant effort to get them there, that is something they hope to share with the new Colts front office. This, I truly believe, is exactly what Ballard expects from himself, and more importantly what he wants – and expects – the fans to demand from him.

Trust Ballard’s process and understand that nothing happens overnight, but also be cognizant of the fact that the Colts have NEVER had a GM like Ballard. His candidness, and welcoming of expectations and almost a self-policing approach are unique to a man in his position and allow us to take pride in, and always recognize, that our goals are uniform for the future of this organization.

Matt Danely (@MDanely_NFL) is a contributing writer for @StampedeBlue and host of the Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts).